Anti-Flag's first official headlining tour in support of their major label debut; does the backlash start here?
The AKAs seemed appropriate openers. They've always reminded me of middle era (International) Noise Conspiracy with a more limited spectrum of influence; the live show didn't differ much. Despite mic problems, the singer had solid stage presence, strutting around and culling the audience into a few handclaps and shouts. The keyboardist seemed a little bored, but the music admittedly would've seemed a bit incomplete without her layer of notes. They played selections from White Doves & Smoking Guns, the only two of which I remember including "Shout Out Loud" and "Every Great Western."
Smoke or Fire was probably the band I was looking forward to seeing the most. Judging from this set, they're a band who I find myself enjoying with every passing show, even as all 3 have now been in rather large clubs (sole openers for Me First & the Gimme Gimmes at Irving Plaza, Fat Wreck tour with Against Me! at Webster Hall, and now here back at Irving Plaza). They basically played a near-perfect set. Granted I would've liked to hear a new one since a followup to Above the City is promised later this year, but they otherwise played every song I wanted to hear. The band always has just enough energy to propel the songs into ideal sing-along territory. "California's Burning" couldn't have been a more appropriate opener, with the ragged chords turning a few heads in the young audience, while the emotional breakdown of "50 Cent Hearts" bookended it beautifully. Fantastic set, especially since I'm almost positive they really did play ELEVEN songs. ELEVEN.
[in no order]
- California's Burning [opener]
- Cops and Drugs
- Culture as Given
- Loving, Self-Loathing
- Fire Escapes
- Point Break
- Sunday Pints
- 50 Cent Hearts [closer]
Oof...okay, only a select number of people have any idea why writing this paragraph is really, really awkward for me, but here goes nothing. The Casualties then played. This was probably the one band I had the least interest in seeing, but I tried to watch with an open mind. Sounded like streetpunk to me with a few, uh, iffy traits. Their fanbase was quite ridiculous, and they also incited a near-constant circle pit; it lagged a bit in the middle of the set, but seemed to renew interest with the Ramones' tribute song "Made in NYC," following it with a pretty solid cover of "Blitzkrieg Bop." I can tell you they also played "Media Control" and "Punx Unite" (you know, "IF THE PUNX / ARE UNITED / THEY WILL NEVER / BE DIVIDED"). The one guitarist's electric green mohawk gave off a pretty cool effect in the blacklight, so props for that. I might've actually gotten some enjoyment out of it not for Jorge's voice; boy does that grate on you after a song or so.
Now, I've always enjoyed Anti-Flag (and by always, I mean the last 3-4 years). I even prefer their newer albums over the beloved, poppy streetpunk era, even while I realized the course they were taking may one day end up somewhat compromising those vehement beliefs. But tonight, something changed, in a good way; my respect for the band grew admirably as I came to finally realize what the band was about.
I recently wrapped up reading Let Fury Have the Hour, a book edited and compiled by Antonino D'Ambrosio that includes a number of articles taking an in-depth look at the life, work, and influence of Joe Strummer, with a heavy portion of the book obviously dedicated to the time in his life spent in the Clash. Among the themes throughout the book conveyed was the fact that Strummer was firmly "anti-intellectual." He preferred to raise awareness not through overtly highbrowed diatribes, but through more accessible pieces of social and political analysis, messages that the common folk could listen and relate to. Also recently I've noticed our good friend and site editor Aubin make emphatic mention of just how Clash-influenced Anti-Flag is; I initially scoffed a little at these statements. However, after reading a recent interview with band member Chris, who's sure to admit he believes the band's role as a gateway drug is more prominent than anything, and seeing the band myself live once more, it makese sense. Anti-Flag may not draw from the same far-reaching musical spectrum and breadth of influence as the Clash once did, but in writing these simple, uber-catchy pop-punk songs, they congregate the common folk of these days -- folk in this case being kids -- in hopes of raising political awareness and rallying them into active social duty, as these folk may have no inspiration otherwise. And this is all fully intentioned. Sure, there's still sporadic sloganeering ("War Sucks, Let's Party!"), but it's part of what draws those folk in.
As well, A-F had a table set up with a number of petitions, with Military-Free Zone.org being the largely supported highlight, which lets you opt out of the military accessing personal information through your school for recruitment purposes. Therein lied physical proof the band attempts social change and positive unrest themselves.
The set itself seemed very raw musically, but it worked well. The fans seemed to respond nicely to the newer songs, which included the excellent "I'd Tell You But...," "The Press Corpse," "This Is the End (For You My Friend)," "1 Trillion Dollar$," and "War Sucks, Let's Party!." The band dipped into their back catalog for favorites like "911 for Peace," "Spaz's House Destruction Party" (I believe this was the song where one member forced the band to stop playing until one physically crushed fan up front had breathing room), "Die for the Government" of course, "Turncoat," "Rank-N-File," "You Can Kill the Protestor, But You Can't Kill the Protest," "Fuck Police Brutality" (opener), "Got the Numbers," "This Machine Kills Fascists," and "Underground Network." Again, the band seemed to play rather raw, but I suppose that is the essence of punk rock. They encouraged the crowd to sign the petitions and get active, reinforcing my point.
Outside of a few barely audible off-hand comments between friends (something about selling out to Clear Channel as mentioned by some nearby attendees), there was not a word of heckling and a wealthy number in attendance. So I suppose if there's any backlash, it's quite minimal.
Hopefully those dizzying themselves in the revolutions of circle pits are given the inspiration to participate in metaphorical ones. I think if even 1 make that transition, the band's succeeded.